1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Nebo
NEBO, or Nabu (“ the proclaimer ”), the name of one of the chief gods of the Babylonian pantheon, the main seat of whose worship was at Borsippa—opposite the city of Babylon. It is due to the close association of Borsippa with Babylon after the period when Babylon became the centre of the Babylonian empire that the cult of Nebo retained a prominence only some degrees less than that of Marduk. The amicable relationship between the two was expressed by making Nebo the son of Marduk. In this case the expression of the relationship in this form was intended to symbolize the superiority of Marduk, different, therefore, from the view involved in making Marduk the son of Ea (q.v.), which meant that the prerogatives of Ea were transferred to Marduk by the priests of Babylon. Borsippa became in the course of time so completely a mere adjunct to Babylon that one might fairly have expected the Nebo cult to have been entirely absorbed by that of Marduk. Since that did not happen, the legitimate inference is that other deterrent factors were at play. One of these factors was the position that Nebo had acquired as the “ god of wisdom ” to whom more particularly the introduction of writing was ascribed. He takes his place, therefore, by the side of Ea as a cultural deity. The wisdom associated with him had largely to do with the interpretation of the movements in the heavens, and the priests of Nebo at an early age must have acquired widespread fame as astrologers. Assuming now, for which there is a reasonable amount of confirmatory evidence, that the priestly school of Nebo had a.cquired a commanding position before Babylon rose to political importance we can understand why the worshippers of Marduk persisted in paying homage to Nebo, and found a means of doing so without lowering the dignity and standing of their own god. If Assur-bani-pal, the king of Assyria (668–626 B.C.), in the subscripts to the copies of Babylonian literary tablets invokes as he invariably does Nebo and his consort Tashmit as the gods of writing to whom all wisdom is traced, it is fair to assume that in so doing he was following ancient tradition and that the priests of Marduk likewise were dependent upon the school at Borsippa for their knowledge and wisdom.
Nebo is therefore an older god than Marduk in the sense that his specific prerogative as the god of wisdom was too firmly recognized when Marduk became the head of the Babylonian pantheon to be set aside.
The temple school at Borsippa continued to flourish until the end of the neo-Babylonian empire, and. school texts of various contents, dated in the reigns of Artaxerxes, Cambyses and Darius, furnish the evidence that the school survived even the conquest of Babylonia by Cyprus (538 B.C.). The original character of Nebo can no longer be determined with any degree of definiteness. He may have been a solar deity, but there are also decided indications which point to his being a water-deity like Ea. It may be, therefore, that if he shows the traits of a solar deity, this may be due to the influence of the neighbouring Marduk cult, just as in return Marduk takes on attributes that belong of right to Nebo. Thus, as the god of writing, Nebo has charge of the tables of fate on which he inscribes the names of men and decides what their lot is to be. If in the systematized religious system, Marduk appears as the arbiter of human fates, the conclusion is warranted that Marduk is here imbued with the authority which originally was in the hands of his son. A reconciliation between the rival claims was effected by continuing Nebo in the rôle of scribe, but as writing at the dictation of the gods, thus recording what the divine assembly, gathered in the “chamber of fates” (known as Ubshu Kinakku) within the precincts of E-Saggila—Marduk's temple at Babylon—under the presidency of Marduk, had decided.
Nebo also does homage to his father by paying him an annual visit during the New Year celebration, when the god was solemnly carried across to Babylon, and in return Marduk accompanied his son part way back to his shrine at Borsippa. Within E-Saggila, Nebo had a sanctuary known, as was his chief temple at Borsippa, as E-Zida, “the legitimate (or ‘firm’) house,” and the close bond existing between father and son was emphasized by providing for Marduk within the precinct of E-Zida, a sanctuary which bore the same name, E-Saggila, “the lofty house,” as Marduk's temple at Babylon. The kings, and more particularly those of the neo-Babylonian dynasty, devote themselves assiduously to the worship and embellishment of both E-Saggila and E-Zida. In their inscriptions Marduk and Nebo are invoked together and the names of the two temples constantly placed side by side. The symbols of the two gods are similarly combined. On boundary stones and cylinders, when Marduk's symbol—the lance—is depicted, Nebo's symbol—the stylus—is generally found adjacent. The dragon, though of right belonging to Marduk (q.v.), as the conqueror of Tiamat, also becomes the symbol of Nebo, and similarly in other respects the two form a close partnership. Such is the relation between the two that occasionally, as in the official reports of astrologers and in official letters, Nebo is even mentioned before Marduk without fear of thereby offending the pride of the priests of Marduk.
In Assyria the Nebo cult likewise enjoyed great popularity, and there is a record of one Assyrian ruler who made Nebo his specific deity and called upon his subjects to put their whole trust in him. One may discern, indeed, a tendency in Assyria to take advantage of the almost equal plane on which Nebo stands with Marduk in Babylonia, to play off Nebo as it were against Marduk. The Assyrian kings in this way, by glorifying at times Nebo at the expense of Marduk, paid their debt of homage to the south without any risk of lowering the grade of their own chief deity Assur. Marduk was in a measure Assur's rival. This was not the case, however, with Nebo, and they accordingly showed a desire to regard Nebo rather than Marduk as the characteristic representative of the southern pantheon. In the astral-theological system Nebo was identified with the planet Mercury. His consort, known as Tashmit, plays no independent part, and is rarely invoked except in connexion with Nebo.